Gambling on the worldliness of Bay Area jurors, the attorney for a test engineer who gunned down his bosses four years ago after being fired contended Thursday that his client wasn't motivated by anything as mundane as a blood-thirsty desire for revenge.

Instead, Jing Hua Wu experienced a psychotic break when he committed one of Silicon Valley's worst workplace killings -- brought on by a flashback from the abuse he suffered decades ago at the hands of communists during the Cultural Revolution in his native China.

"His family was treated as traitors, as capitalists,'' defense attorney Tony Serra argued in his characteristically dramatic style. "They were vilified, spit upon, forced to wear those tall hats and do all kinds of hard labor. He was bullied, he was harassed, he was shot at and it filled his mind with feelings of pain and unworthiness.

"He was out of his mind,'' Serra added. "He could have been a beautiful Oriental vase, but it cracked at the inception of his life and thereafter.''

Serra admitted Wu committed the Nov. 14, 2008, killings in Santa Clara at the office of then-startup SiPort, but noted that his client is "profoundly apologetic'' and "remorseful.''

However, said Serra, Wu is not guilty of murder -- because he was insane when he shot CEO Sid Agrawal, supervisor Brian Pugh and office manager Marilyn Lewis at point-blank range.

Made threats


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If the jury of six men and six women finds Wu guilty of three counts of murder, the verdict would trigger another hearing known as the sanity phase. Serra would have to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Wu didn't know the difference between right and wrong when he returned to the office building near San Tomas Expressway and Scott Boulevard about four hours after being fired.

That could be a tall order, given the evidence prosecutor Tim McInerny laid out in his opening statement.

After Pugh fired Wu that morning, said McInerny, the manager sent an email to his bosses, Agrawal and Lewis, noting that Wu had threatened, "You will pay for this, you will see. I wish you to go to hell. You will not escape this Earth.''

That appears to contradict Serra's insistence that Wu intended only to kill himself until "his mind went white'' because of the alleged Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from his childhood. There was also "madness'' in his family, Serra told the jury, including his maternal grandmother and mother.

"He put the gun to his head,'' Serra said. "One of the victims came at him with a chair...He felt he was being assaulted...and the gun discharged.''

But McInerny said there is no evidence that Wu ever suffered any mental illness other than a bout of depression in 2001. The prosecutor said Wu planned the killings, including going to a gun shop in Santa Clara shortly after being fired, where he purchased 100 bullets for his 9mm gun. He ultimately fired only six.

"Revenge -- that's what this case boils down to,'' McInerny said. "A disgruntled employee is fired and kills three of the four people responsible.''

"Strange look"

McInerny's first witness undercut the picture Serra tried to paint of Wu as the victim of cold-hearted bosses who ignored his pleas for consideration.

Aiman Kabakibo, SiPort's co-founder, said Wu was fired because he failed to meet deadlines to test the chips for HD radio technology the company was designing and that Wu blamed consultants for the delays. SiPort has since been bought by Intel in 2011 for an undisclosed price.

But when Wu pleaded with them to retain him otherwise he'd go bankrupt in the real estate crash, they agreed to hire him back as a consultant. The idea was he'd be more likely to make deadlines as a consultant since his salary would be contigent on his delivering, Kabakibo said. He would continue to earn $125,000 a year.

The plan was Wu would finish work that day, which happened to be a Friday, and return Monday with a timeline for his work as a consultant, Kabakibo said.

But when Wu came back about 3 p.m., he was wearing a heavy jacket and cap, unusual attire for the office, Kabakibo said. He decided to avoid the frowning Wu and took a different path back to his office.

"He just had this strange look on his face,'' Kabakibo said. The next thing he knew, there had been a shooting and he was out in the parking lot, looking for a place to hide.

Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.